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A network of supportive people can help you deal with a long-term illness such as ulcerative colitis (UC). But a simple thing like hanging out with friends may seem like a big challenge when you’re battling diarrhea and other symptoms. And what about intimacy?

Fortunately, even when you aren't feeling well, you can still keep up rewarding and loving relationships.

Let Your Friends In

Megan Starshak was 18 and headed to college when she learned she had UC.

"I was still learning about the disease and didn't know what to tell others," says Starshak, who is now 29.

As a result, she spent a lot of nights at home while her friends grew frustrated that she never seemed to want to do anything fun.

"People would say, 'Join us when you feel better.' It was like they thought I had a cold. They didn't understand that I was dealing with a chronic illness," she says.

That's why it's important to educate at least a few close friends about your condition.

"It's good to have someone in your corner who can tell others, 'Look, Megan has a serious illness, and today she's not feeling well,'" says gastroenterologist Aline Charabaty, MD. She's the director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

And while you don't want to burden your friends, it's always nice to have someone willing to give up an occasional night out in order to spend time with you when you need it.

"Looking back on my college days, I wish that I had been more open and let people in on what I was going through," Starshak says.

Deal With Dating Jitters

It's up to you whether you want to make your digestive problems a topic for your first date. But you shouldn't wait too long to bring it up.

"Your date may feel confused and insecure if he doesn't know what's going on, and you're canceling engagements because you don't feel well. Or you're distracted when you're together because you're concerned about having a mishap," Charabaty says.

Digestive problems may not be sexy, but a medical condition like UC isn’t something to be ashamed of, either. It helps to have a sense of humor about it, Starshak says.